A delayed honeymoon getaway takes a deadly turn for newlyweds Mel and Dana; meanwhile, two meddling mothers won't let sleeping fisherman lie in the latest Morelville Mystery.Does an unsolved shooting death far away from Morelville have local ties? Did a fisherman really drown or was there something more sinister afloat?All Mel and Dana wanted was to enjoy a nice, relaxing honeymoon in the Smokey Mountains, away from the strains of life in the public eye. Instead, they end up involved in a case local law enforcement has completely written off. In this prequel to The Morelville Cozies, things are no better back home where their own mothers are stirring up an all new hornets nest that they think Mel and her own department have written off.If there is going to be any rest for anyone, something is going to have to break in one case or the other...This book is great together with Books 1 through 4 to get all of the Dana and Mel back story but it can also be read as a stand-alone mystery.
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Viva Mama Rossi!
The Morelville Mysteries – Book 5
Prequel to the Morelville Cozies
To my mother and grandmothers
Jug Run Press, USA
Copyright © 2015
All rights reserved: No part of this publication may be replicated, redistributed or given away in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means including information storage and retrieval systems without prior written consent of the author or the publisher except by a reviewer, who may quote brief passages for review.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are products of the author’s imagination or are actual places used in an entirely fictitious manner and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events, organizations, or persons, living or deceased, is entirely coincidental.
Chapter 1 – The Morning After
Chapter 2 – The Smokies
Chapter 3 – Gone
Chapter 4 – Cabin Fever
Chapter 5 - Lost
Chapter 6 – Bullets and Casings
Chapter 7 – Found
Chapter 8 – MYOB
Chapter 9 – Coffee Klatch
Chapter 10 – Lifted
Chapter 11 – PI Moms
Chapter 12 – Positive ID
Chapter 13 – The Sordid Side
Chapter 14 – On the Road
Chapter 15 – Manicures and Truth
Chapter 16 – Home Sweet Home?
Chapter 17 – Report!
Chapter 18 – Bereaved?
Chapter 19 – Family Fun Day
Chapter 20 – Boo Boo
Chapter 21 – Trash or Treasure
Chapter 22 – Ah Ha Moments
Chapter 23 – A Haunting We Will Go
Chapter 24 – Seized
Chapter 25 – Denouement
About the Author
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Also Written by the Author
Sunday Morning, October 12th, 2014
“Good morning beautiful.”
Dana stretched on the bed next to me but then she pulled a pillow that had strayed down between us up and half way across her face. “Turn off the sun,” she groaned. “I’m not ready to get up.”
“We don’t really have a choice, babe. We have house guests, a mess to clean up at the farm and, well, there’s the matter of a murder investigation I need to gear back up on.”
Dana flung the pillow toward her feet and sat up on one elbow to look at me but then she dropped her head and ran a hand through her long hair. “That really happened, didn’t it? I didn’t dream it?”
“Yes, it really happened. Now I have to figure out what to do about it.”
Dana looked worried, “Mel...our...our honeymoon...”
I knew what she was thinking because I felt the same. We’ve had a tough go of it these past couple of months, I thought to myself.
I looked at my wife, “I’ll figure something out babe. We’ll leave today, I promise.” I just couldn’t disappoint her. She needs the time away. We both do.
I showered quickly and then tiptoed into the living room. Nevil Harper Jr. was curled up in a ball in a sleeping bag on the floor. He was sound asleep. Chloe Rossi’s giant Chihuahua, Lady, was curled up in the middle of the camp cot Chloe had slept on for the night but she wasn’t in the room. I scratched my head and wandered toward the kitchen of our newly acquired home.
I found Dana’s mom there measuring coffee out of a can she must have spirited away from the wedding reception we’d shared with my twin and her new husband Lance yesterday and transferring it to a new looking coffee maker that I didn’t even know we had.
“Good morning Mel. I hope you don’t mind; I opened one of our wedding gifts to you and Dana. I just can’t get the day started without coffee.”
“Oh, um, no problem.” I nodded. I didn’t have the heart to tell her I’m not a coffee fan myself. I got a glass of water instead and took a gulp just as she spoke again.
“That boy slept like the dead last night.”
Trying not to spew water everywhere, I thought to myself, you don’t know the half of it!
“What’s his real story?”
“Oh, come on. Last night you told me he had family troubles and he needed a place to stay for the night. I know there’s more to it than that.”
“A little more. He’s a, uh, witness to a case I’m working on.”
She raised her eyebrows, “He’s not in any danger is he?”
“No, and he’s not a danger either, if that’s what you’re thinking.”
I don’t suppose you can tell me anything else?”
“No ma’am. Sorry.”
“You’re just like my boy Vince! You cops are all alike, I swear. I’m an old woman!” She elbowed me gently, “Don’t you know I need a little bit of excitement in my life?”
“You’re hardly old Mrs. Rossi.”
“Mel, please, calling me ‘Mrs. Rossi’. That makes me feel even older. Just call me Chloe or call me mama like everyone else does.”
I just smiled and turned to dig in the fridge.
“Are you hungry? I can make you some breakfast, if you like?”
“No need to,” I waved a hand toward the gaping open appliance. “We have all of these leftovers from the reception and there’s a ton more out at the farm. We’ll be gone all week so we really should eat up some of this stuff and haul the rest back out there. I don’t know what we were thinking.”
“About what?” Dana loped into the room, fresh from her own shower.
Chloe spoke before I had a chance to answer her myself, “Forget those leftovers. I promised your mom I’d stay the night and be out there to help clean up today. I’ll take those back out to her myself. As for you two, you’re just to be on your way after I send you off fat and happy with my homemade beef stroganoff.”
“Ooooh,” was Dana’s only response.
Chloe smiled at her daughter, it’s been a long time hasn’t it?”
“Yes mama, it has.”
I grabbed an oversized bowl of fruit salad and spooned some into another bowl. “I can live with that but if we really are going to get on the road this afternoon, I have to figure out what to do with my charge that’s still in there sleeping and get my guys back geared back up on the investigation.”
Dana simply nodded. I headed upstairs to where we’d decided to set up my office.
Our house was mostly unfurnished. We’d moved my bedroom suite and the desk and chair from my den over from the house I’d shared with Kris and her children when we took possession of our this one right next door and Dana had gone out and bought what kitchen and comfort items we needed to get by on for a week. We’d spent the week since we took possession of the home focusing on preparing for my twin’s wedding rather than on furnishing and decorating the house. Dana was looking forward to jumping into that with a vengeance when we returned from our honeymoon.
“I didn’t see sour cream in your dairy case. Do you have any?”
“Yes ma’am, in the back. I’ll get you some; big or small?”
“Two large, please. I need one for stroganoff.”
The man moved toward the back of the store while a woman took her time to ring up my other purchases. When she finished, she eyed me up and down with open curiosity.
“You know I’m not from around here but you think you’ve seen me before, don’t you?”
The storekeeper seemed taken aback, “Are you some kind of mind reader?”
“No dear, it’s written all over your face.” I smiled, “I’m Chloe Rossi. I’m pretty sure we met briefly yesterday at the wedding for Kris and Lance.”
“Oh, that’s it!” Recognition dawned on her face, “I’m Sheila Ford. You must be a friend or family to Lance Miller then?”
“No, no. I said ‘Rossi’. Dana Rossi is my daughter. She married Kris Crane’s...well, Miller’s sister, that wonderful peach of a girl, Mel.”
“Ohhhh. Now I remember.” The slight tint of a blush dusted Sheila’s cheeks. Words spilled out in a rush, “We all just love Mel around here. She’s the Sheriff you know. Well, of course you know. You’d know that...”
I reached out a hand and patted her arm gently, “Relax. I’m aware their relationship is more than a little unconventional for most folks around here. Really though, those two are so in love, who could ever deny them that? They only have eyes for each other.”
“Yes, of course.” Shelia leaned out over the counter and peered down the main aisle of her two aisle store. “Just where is Terry? I swear that man will be late to his own funeral! How long could it possibly take to fetch two containers of sour cream?” She stepped from behind the counter and marched off down the aisle toward the storeroom. She swung open the double hinged door and bellowed out Terry’s name.
I started digging in my purse for my wallet and, preoccupied, startled at the unexpected yell. I turned in time to see Sheila step through the door into the back area. As it swung closed again behind I heard her exclaim, “This is a fine mess you’ve made!”
Moments later, she emerged alone with the two requested containers.
“My apologies. Terry seems to have wandered off. There’s a slimy mess back there where he must have dropped two of these and he’s gone, probably in search of the mop while forgetting all about you waiting.”
Once I settled in to work, I was thankful Dana had the cable company come out as soon as we took possession of the house. We hadn’t purchased our own televisions yet, but we did have digital phone service and internet in the God forsaken no man’s land that we lived in where, even on a good day, cell service was spotty.
After booting up my laptop and scanning through my email quickly, I spent the rest of the morning on and off the phone and computer trying to coordinate a renewed investigation into the death of Olivia Stiers based on Nevil Harper Junior’s statements to me during the reception. Shane Harding, my only detective right now, was on his way over to pick Junior up and take him into the station for a formal interview and a sworn statement. He’d handle the investigation from there, until I returned.
Nevil Junior wasn’t a danger to anyone; I really felt that in my gut. I just couldn’t lock the kid up but he couldn’t go home either if he really did suspect his own father of the murder of his girlfriend.
After spending a few minutes thinking about what would work best for the 18 year old that had grown up far too fast the past couple of months, I dialed the Zanesville Toyota dealership where he’d been working before he disappeared. The service department was closed and the service manager wasn’t in on a Sunday, but I was convincing enough with my urgent and authoritative tone to work an emergency number for him out of the woman at the front desk.
He answered his phone with a question in his voice, “Eric Graham?”
“Mr. Graham, Sheriff Crane. My apologies for disturbing you on a Sunday.”
“No problem; what can I do for you Sheriff?”
“You had a mechanic working for you until a couple of months or so ago, Nevil Harper Jr.”
“Yes. Great mechanic, for such a young one. We’ve missed him with the foreign stuff. Heard he got himself into some trouble though.”
“He’s not in any trouble himself Mr. Graham. Please understand, I can’t go into any of the details but Nevil may have information about a case I’m working on. My department is working with him on that.”
“Do you think I know anything about what he’s talking to you about?”
“No sir, not at all. The reason I actually called is, well, I need to find a place for him to stay for a little while and, well, maybe...”
He interrupted me, “And maybe get his job back?”
“He’s a good kid. He needs a hand right now and he needs money.”
“I know he’s a good kid; a good kid and a damn fine mechanic. Tell you what, why don’t you bring him over here?” He rattled off the address. “I like the boy and we have plenty of room. If he wants to stay for a few days or for a while, we can work something out and I can always use his hands back at the dealership.”
1:00 PM Sunday Afternoon
I waved at Mel and Dana as I pulled out of their driveway. Little Lady and I were headed out to the farm to help with what was left of the after party clean-up. They were packing up Dana’s car for their trip to Tennessee.
I’d told the girls I’d be back for my bag later and that I’d make sure everything was locked up for them before I headed home. I really had no intention of going home this week but they didn’t need to know that.
The farm was on higher ground than the house in the village. My cell actually got reception there so, as soon as I was stopped in the driveway, I called my husband to fill him in.
“Marco, it’s me. Did you get in all right last night?”
“Yeah, no problems. It’s only a two hour drive. You on your way?”
“No dear. I told you, I was going to stay out here and help out today. The girls just pulled out a few minutes ago. I’m back out at the farm now.”
“So you’ll be home sometime tonight then?”
“That’s what I wanted to talk to you about.”
“What are you up to?” His tone was accusing.
“Nothing like what you’re thinking. They just moved into that house is all and it needs a lot of work...you know, cleaning and dusting and sorting and putting away; that sort of thing. I think I’m going to stay and do all of that and surprise them when they come home next weekend.”
“Do you think that’s a good idea?”
“How could they possibly object to a helping hand?”
Sunday Evening, October 12th, 2014
I worked the key in the lock as I talked to Dana back over my right shoulder, “I got the recommendation for the rental agency from Terry Ford over at the store. I found this cabin online, through them. I hope it’s a nice...” The handle turned and I stood gaping, speechless, at a beautiful wood and dark stone kitchen.
Dana nudged me forward to step in herself and look around. “This is nice but you ain’t seen nothin’ yet, I’m sure.”
My spirits deflated, I knew Dana had been to the Smokies before. Coming here was her suggestion because she thought I’d enjoy it. From her statement, I figured she’d been in this cabin before. “I’ll just get the rest of the stuff out of the car.”
“Don’t you want to look around first? I’m going to!”
“You mean, you haven’t stayed in this cabin before?”
“Babe, don’t be silly. Do you have any idea how many rental cabins there are dotted all over the Smokey Mountains?”
At my blank expression, she answered her own question, “Thousands. Lots of them are quite nice and, it appears, this is one of them.”
We walked through the kitchen to the hardwood of the living room with its vaulted ceiling and sky high windows. We could see that outside a set of double doors was a deck and a hot tub, all with a beautiful view of the mountains.
Stepping out on the deck, we both took a look around. The cabin was perched on a hillside that rose to our left toward a ridgeline and fell away below us. A neighboring cabin on the left side as I faced outward was almost completely shielded from view by a row of thick pines. I hadn’t seen any vehicles or activity there when we pulled up. The hot tub was on that side of the deck with a lattice screen behind it, despite the trees that shielded it from the neighbor’s view.
Looking off the right side, back down the hill we’d driven up, we realized the closest neighboring cabin in that direction was several acres away with lots of trees dotting the unimproved lots in between. A grill was situated at that end of the deck. We’ll have plenty of privacy for any time we spend out here, I thought to myself.
Dana looked at me, “We’re about seven miles out of Gatlinburg. There’s tons to do on the strip we drove down through Sevierville, Pigeon Forge and then Gatlinburg so this isn’t very convenient to it,” she waved her hand around, “but the cabins are a lot more plentiful and closer together there too; more people.”
“This is nice. I like having a little seclusion and, compared to what we’re used to, seven miles to civilization isn’t all that far.”
Dana grinned at that and nodded. “Let’s go upstairs and check out the bedroom.” She turned on her heel and headed inside. I followed like a lovesick puppy.
We climbed gleaming wood stairs to an enclosed loft style master with a massive, thick king sized bed sitting on the far wall facing what would have been toward the downhill slope, had there been a window on that side. Regardless, the room was so well appointed, I felt my jaw drop again. I went over and tested the bed. It was heaven. “We have got to get one of these!
“It would fit in our room back home nicely since Larry and Karen remodeled and expanded it,” Dana replied.
I patted the bed beside me.
“Nope. Not yet. There’s a bit more to see and we do have to get the car unloaded before it gets too dark. Bears can be a problem.”
She wasn’t listening. Instead, she inspected the Jacuzzi tub a few steps to the right of the bed as she faced it and then opened the bathroom door alongside the Jacuzzi and peered in. Her smile as she turned back to face me said it all.
I got up and moved to the left of the bed toward double doors that led out to the balcony. When I walked out, I realized I was standing over the front of the cabin with the car just down below me in the little pull off from the road. Across the roadway that continued uphill to my right as I faced it, another hill also rose into a knoll. A copse of several trees stood tall at the top with a heavier wood line, just visible, farther back. There were no cabins visible at all on the steep hill on the opposite side of the road. With any luck, we wouldn’t have neighbors all week in the cabin next door. I shuddered at the quiet and the seclusion of it all.
Dana took a small sip of her champagne then carefully set the flute down on the edge of the hot tub. I looked on as she sunk a little deeper into the bubbling water, relaxing after our long drive and the subsequent hauling in of the stuff we’d packed for the week. The champagne had been her little honeymoon surprise for us.
Her eyes closed and she allowed her head to loll to one side. I half rose and moved slowly to hover over her, being careful to keep my feet in the same position they’d been in and not give away my intent too soon. As I lowered my body to hers, I whispered, “Happy Birthday Dana; I love you.” Her eyes flew open as I pressed myself to her gently.
“Mel, we agreed we weren’t going to do anything this year, given the weddings, and receptions, and the house...”
I pressed my finger to her lips, “Shh.” Removing it, I kissed her gently. “I didn’t do anything special but I did at least want to say it to you, to acknowledge it.” Slipping onto the bench beside her and gathering her wet form into my arms, I cradled her and nuzzled her neck.
“I didn’t even let my own mother do anything for me today babe, and I know it was killing her.”
“Oh, so you think the whole stroganoff thing was just a spur of the moment decision for her in our barely functional kitchen?”
Dana narrowed her eyes and peered into mine, “What are you saying?”
“Baby, she brought her own pans...”
My beloved tapped me lightly on the nose and then threatened, “You so owe me Mel Crane!”
“Hmm, what shall I pay?” I wiggled my eyebrows suggestively as I tightened my grip just a little around her back and across her legs. My right hand slowly rubbed the outside of her thigh suggestively as we snuggled just a bit deeper into the water.
“I’ll have to think about that.”
“Oh really? I could just turn you over my knee and give you 35 good swats!”
“Go ahead and try it; I dare you!”
We tussled in the water for several seconds, her smaller form holding its own with the added bit of buoyancy she was able to gain over my larger one but, in the end, I captured her and lowered my weight on her. I claimed her lips in victory.
The kiss was searing in the already hot water. I rolled onto a bench seat and hauled her back into my lap, my hand firmly on her behind. I began to rub it suggestively through the lycra of the suit she’d insisted on wearing, though we were miles from anyone’s line of vision.
Dana moaned a little against my mouth and arched toward me. Leaving an arm around behind her to hold her, I move my hand from her backside up to her shoulder. I lowered the strap of her suit exposing her breast to me then cupped it gently.
In the warm water, even exposed to a bit of the cooling night air, her nipple didn’t peak at first. I rolled it between my fingers then bent to pull it between my lips. At the touch it pebbled and Dana bucked in my lap.
Keeping her in my mouth, I slid my hand away and down her front, between her legs, under the still bubbling water. Nudging the suit aside, I ran a finger along her slit. It was slick with a wet heat that I didn’t think was just from the rolling water. Pushing into her core, I finally knew that she was wet in the best way and more than ready for me.
I nipped at her nipple as I moved one finger slowly in and out of her then, lifting my head and capturing her lips and tongue in a sweet torture that she was more than willing to return, I pulled out, then pushed two fingers in.
Going gently at first, then building harder and faster, I had her bucking and splashing as she tried to cling to me at the same time. Her walls closed in finally in several spasms and then she stopped thrashing in the water and went limp against me.
10:40 AM Monday Morning, October 13th, 2014
Sheila Ford sat at the kitchen table nursing a cup of coffee. Her brother-in-law Steven Ford was in a chair adjacent to hers doing the same.
Treadway looked back and forth between the two people. They were adamant about filing a missing persons report, though Terry Ford had barely been gone 24 hours. “So you last saw him, you believe, just after 10:00 AM yesterday morning?” He made an annotation in his notebook.
“That’s right,” Sheila replied. “I normally go to Sunday school at 9:30 and then the church service starts at 10:30. Lacy, our helper, called in yesterday morning just after Terry started to open at 9:00 and said her son was sick and she couldn’t be there. I went in to help Terry get everything opened up. A woman came in just after 10:00 asking for sour cream. Terry went to the back to get it and he never came back. When I went back to check on him, there was sour cream on the floor and he was gone. I missed church and then ended up waiting there all day for him. He left his cell phone on the back counter.” Her tone was angry then it softened, “He hasn’t been back to the store or home since.”
Steven spoke up, “We were supposed to leave on a fishing trip first thing this morning; a three day trout derby up at the lake sponsored by the Sportsman’s Club.”
Joe Treadway looked skeptical, “A derby during the week?”
“That’s right. It was for the 55 and older group of members; mostly retired. Terry’s a little eccentric...hell, even downright odd at times but it’s not like him to miss a fishing trip especially for a derby.” Sheila nodded her agreement.
“Was there any sign of a struggle in the back of the store or out in the lot Mrs. Ford?”
“No. Not at all...other than the sour cream mess. The containers both burst open. I assumed he went looking for the mop and he realized he probably put it out back in the storage barn, out of the way, or even that he had brought home for some reason and he came back here after it.”
“Would he have brought it here?” Treadway asked her.
She shrugged. Steven too made a look like ‘who knows’ towards the deputy. He was the one to speak, “I told you deputy, Terry was an odd one. I think, more than that, he was getting a little forgetful as he aged.”
“That’s true. So,” Sheila asked, “what are you going to do to try and find him?”
“I have a few more questions first. You said there was no sign of struggle. How would Mr. Ford have left the store?”
“Oh, we both use a side door back by the coolers to come in and out before opening and after closing. He would have gone out that way and gotten into his truck.”
“He drove there yesterday?”
“He does every day. It’s only a quarter mile from the house to the store but he’s a smoker and not big on exercise. He won’t walk it; says he can’t breath.”
“Where’s the truck now, ma’am?”
She shrugged again. “Probably wherever he is. Is there anything else, officer?”
“Deputy. He’s a deputy,” Steven Ford corrected his sister-in-law gently.”
“Just one more thing; is anything missing that you’re aware of?”
“No. I don’t think so. I mean, see for yourself, all his gear for this trip he’s supposed to be on is right there by the front door. He was excited...packed it all up Saturday night before he went to bed.”
Treadway looked at Steven, “Are you familiar with the gear the other Mr. Ford usually takes with him sir?”
Steven nodded, got up and walked toward the weekend bag, tackle box, waders and other assorted odds and ends. He glanced over it then turned back to Treadway, “Everything appears to be here except his favorite pole.” He pointed to a case, “That’s his spare, broken down in that case, but he never took his favorite pole apart.”
Monday Afternoon, October 13th, 2014
“That was quite a night last night and then, our brisk little hike around this morning...” Dana sighed, “I’m feeling every bit of 35 today, that’s for sure.”
“Hey, what’s that supposed to mean?” I demanded. Dana knew I was already 35 myself. We’d kind of glossed right past the birthday I shared with my twin in July. Dana was recovering from a kidnapping incident at the time and I was in the midst of a murder investigation that involved the criminal activity of one of my own staff. Celebrating was the last thing on my mind, then.
“You know what I mean. Between my leg issues and a level of other activity I’m not, ahem, used too,” she cleared her throat suggestively.
I tried to hide my grin but I failed miserably. Instead, I suggested, “It’s a little warm outside yet today but maybe you ought to soak it out in the hot tub; you know, to limber up a little bit.”
“Naw, too warm outside right now, you’re right. It must be 70 out there. But, maybe I’ll just go upstairs and give that Jacuzzi tub a try.”
“Hmm, naked this time?”
“Well, yes. It’s a tub silly!” She swatted at me lightly.
“I may just have to come and make sure you’re doing the whole soaking thing right.”
“Great...you’re the reason I need to soak in the first place,” Dana tossed over her shoulder as she marched as smartly as she could muster toward the steps.
After about a half hour of waiting downstairs at loose ends, I couldn’t take the thoughts running through my head anymore and I went upstairs to check on my wife. I found her still lounging in the tub as it bubbled gently from the jets. She was leaned back against the far end which was along the same wall as the head of the bed. Her eyes were closed but, from the lazy circles she was drawing with the foot she had raised partially out of the water, I knew she wasn’t asleep.
I stepped into the space between the bed and the side of the tub where the water spigot was. “Dana, honey, your water’s probably getting cold.”
She half opened her eyes and looked at me. “It feels so good in here. I don’t want to move.”
I glanced at the clock on the nightstand beside the bed, between it and the tub. “It’s almost...”
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